Ten years ago, Tommy and Jaymie Klauber took a break from Pattigeorge’s, their restaurant on Longboat Key, to take a group of 60 through the Far East.
Looking for an opportunity to expand their business, which included Fete Catering, they put in a bid on Fred’s Restaurant, which was for sale at Lakewood Ranch Main Street, before they left for the trip.
“When I walked in and saw this, I said, ‘This is a hotel without the rooms,’ ” Tommy Klauber said of the 24,000-square-foot facility at 10670 Boardwalk Loop, which includes a 200-seat dining room and a ballroom that accommodates 500.
Reflecting, Klauber says he didn’t truly believe he and Jaymie would be able to seal the deal, but as they traveled through China, Vietnam, Thailand and Cambodia, they continued negotiations via fax machine.
“I was certain that nothing would happen. But we kept getting these 100-page faxes from our attorney saying this deal is happening,” he said. “Jaymie and I were like, ‘Let’s do this.’
“We didn’t close the doors even one day,” he said of buying Fred’s. “We didn’t turn away any gift certicates or any events.”
The name change to Polo Grill came after someone called to see if the Klaubers wanted to advertise in a polo magazine. The Lakewood Ranch polo connection led Jaymie Klauber to start taking polo lessons and buying a string of ponies.
“I never expected anything like that,” Tommy Klauber said, including moving to Lakewood Ranch.
“Jaymie had a plan all along,” he said.
A year after buying Polo Grill, the Great Recession hit, and the Klaubers had to rely on every shred of their resourcefulness to keep the doors open.
“We never felt like we could rest on our laurels. It has never got less challenging. We are constantly striving to find the best people we can and to serve the best food,” Tommy Klauber said.
Jaymie Klauber added that she and her husband try to be cutting edge and innovative, while also paying attention to the details and their customers.
“We are a small business in a large facility,” she said. “We want the Polo Grill to be like the living room of Lakewood Ranch.”
One of the ways they look out for their customers: Being open on holidays. For some families, having Christmas or Thanksgiving dinner at Polo Grill has become a tradition.
“We have 900 who come here for Thanksgiving and Christmas. Someone told me they love the holidays here,” Jaymie Klauber said.
Said Tommy Klauber: “We are casual dining with a nice – almost elegant – atmosphere. It’s comfortable here. It should be a time to enjoy the experience. We try to take it up another notch here.”
Among the features at Polo Grill is live music on Friday nights, and there is never a cover charge. The Klaubers put a lot of emphasis on food quality and making coming to Polo Grill a fun experience.
Polo Grill makes its own bread, and Tommy Klauber has nicknamed the strain of yeast their baker uses “Lucille.”
Tommy Klauber grew up in the business with his family’s Colony Beach & Tennis Resort on Longboat Key. He is a graduate of the Culinary Institute of America and of La Varenne’s Ecole de Cuisine in Paris. He and Jaymie sold Pattigeorge’s last year after a 20-year run.
A career highlight for Tommy Klauber: He has cooked for four U.S. presidents – Ronald Reagan, George H.W. Bush, Bill Clinton and George W. Bush.
“The dining ethic continues to evolve,” he said. “When I started cooking, there was no such thing as balsamic dressing or Gorgonzola cheese in most restaurants.”
Jaymie Klauber moved to Sarasota in 1995 and was a fundraiser before joining Tommy in the restaurant business.
Both of the Klaubers are sports participants. Tommy is an ironman competitor and triathlete, and Jaymie plays polo.
Although the 10th anniversary of Polo Grill is in November, the Klaubers are starting the celebration early with their 10th annual Spyder Broussard Fish Fry and Shrimp Boil from 6:30-11 p.m. July 15.
Check pologrillandbar.com as additional events are added.